Students team up with Italian chefs

Spoleto-based chef Giovanna Tarli (left) and sous chef Camillo Quartolli prepare to ladle chickpea cream Saturday during “Taste of Umbria.”

It was a busy Saturday night in the Art Institute of Charleston kitchens on North Market Street as 14 white-clad chefs and chefs-in-training darted from stove to counter, cooking and plating colorful food.

For the first time in Piccolo Spoleto history, students from the institute were collaborating with a team of culinary experts from Spoleto to host “Taste of Umbria,” a five-course meal prepared completely with ingredients imported from Italy’s Umbria region, where the city of Spoleto is located.

“It’s our first bilingual cooking team,” said Art Institute of Charleston President Rick Jerue. “The city wanted us to be part of the event, so we said, ‘Let’s do it here and get our students involved.’?”

Flowing Italian phrases melded with Southern twang as directions were given and steaming plates rushed from counter to dinner table under the direction of Spoleto-based chef Giovanna Tarli and sous chef Camillo Quartolli.

Culinary Management student Genia Holbrook works for a French chef outside school, so the three-day bilingual collaboration wasn’t too jarring.

“I’m getting better at my charades,” she said.

The hustle of the bright kitchen was a stark contrast to the elegantly-lit dining room, where approximately 50 guests — among them Spoleto Mayor Daniele Benedetti, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and Honorary Consul Sergio Fedelini — were serenaded by Italian pianist Laura Magnani, who also performed Friday as part of Piccolo Spoleto.

“This is a chance to celebrate the relationship between our cities,” said Benedetti through his translator Gilberto Giasprini, who runs Tourism and International Relations for the city of Spoleto. “Food is an absolute part of culture and it’s our cultures that link us, so sharing food only strengthens that.”

Throughout the meal, guests enjoyed fare ranging from puff pastries with cheese cadeaux (tied with red and green spaghetti to reflect the Italian flag) and crunchy bread soaked in Umbria olive oil to pork filet with red wine. The meal was topped off with a Perugina chocolate souffle.

This was the third food-related event of the week, preceded by a meal at Ashley Hall on Rutledge Avenue and a wine tasting at The Hidden Countship on Burns Lane.

The Hidden Countship will display products of the Umbria region, including wine, lentils and olive oil, throughout Spoleto Festival USA and Piccolo Spoleto.

Leah Stacy is a Newhouse School graduate student.